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Amateur game design for the technically impaired

Game Brainstorm: Serendipity

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Fairly regularly, we post some simple original ideas in the spirit of sharing and discussion. I just recently noticed that these posts are not immediately distinguishable from games that we simply showcase in the case that a reader is just skimming through the headlines. For that reason, I have decided to just tack on a column name from now on. Game Brainstorm… Lazy, I know…


Riven, one of the main inspirations of this game, featured a world packed with life, history, and significant details.

Serendipity: An exploration platform game with mystery-puzzle gameplay.

In Serendipity, players explore a 2D world which opens up as puzzles are solved and mysteries uncovered. In terms of interface and control, it will function much like Knytt Stories (does this game come up in every one of my posts?), with the exclusion of enemies and death. I choose to take inspiration from this particular game for a number of reasons:

– The focus of Serendipity will be the environment instead of the player character. I haven’t completely decided on whether or not to include other characters at all. I would really like to because I feel that having memorable characters is second only to music in determining the longevity of a game, but it may detract from the mysterious atmosphere I intend to create.

– Players should be able to traverse the world quickly and intuitively.

– A tiny, featureless player character may allow players to project themselves into the game in the same way that a first-person perspective does in other titles, without having to break into 3D.

So much for interface and control; on to the gameplay.

I’ll make no secret of the fact that I intend to take heavy influence from Riven. In my opinion, the one-wide-world approach to that title’s puzzles trumped the discrete “ages” present in the other installments. Furthermore, many of the mysteries could best be unraveled with an understanding of the world of Riven. This led to an unconscious immersion into the game, which intensified the feelings of significance and urgency present throughout. Unfortunately, like the entire Myst series, Riven has zero replay value.

I’d like to describe this rare gameplay style, which is actually somewhat akin to the adventure genre, through comparison in order to clarify the mental framework in which I will be working. Imagine a game like Metroid, Knytt Stories, or Within a Deep Forest: there is a large world which is ostensibly open, but the player can not access most regions because of some obstacle. After completing a certain goal, the player receives an upgrade which allows them to overcome that obstacle. Beyond that, in the previously unexplored territory, the player can complete a second goal, receive a second upgrade, and overcome a second obstacle… Rinse and repeat until the ultimate goal is achieved.

In Serendipity, there is a similar set up, but the only obstacle is ignorance*. Instead of obtaining rockets, then shooting them to pass an obstruction, players will come to better understand the obstacle through exploring the world in which it arose and, by doing so, learn how overcome it.

I will present a simple example for clarity’s sake: imagine you have encountered a door sealed with a combination lock. Within the same room are scattered a few items indicative of, let’s say, the presence of a dog. In another building nearby, a household, you see similar indications of a dog’s presence as well as a diary chronicling the events leading up to and shortly following the birth of the author’s daughter. What is the combination? The little girl’s birthday. The player can now access the area previously blocked by the combination lock, wherein lie the secrets necessary to advance farther into game.

It wouldn’t be a dog though… For the record… It would be a fantasy animal indigenous to the world of Serendipity. I didn’t want to confuse my simple example with that detail, but now that you have the general idea… Ok, moving on.

I have mentioned before (this is three times now) that Knytt Stories, for me, is actually reminiscent of Riven. It’s strange how these two, alongside Metroid form this web of similarities that reveal the basic underlying experience that motivates us to advance into the unknown. It’s this underlying experience that I seek to re-imagine in a way that I strive as original and captivating as the titles I have listed here. Call it homage, or variation on a theme, or whatever, I’m not completely sure myself, but essentially my goal for this project is to revisit an experience which, due to the mystery involved, can not simply be reset.

© Justin Dopiriak 2008

* Yeah, I italicized it. Deal.


Written by justindopiriak

March 26, 2008 at 7:37 am

One Response

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  1. Thank you very much for this article. It very interesting.


    May 17, 2010 at 2:28 pm

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